Another year, Another season Shy of Success

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Another year, Another season Shy of Success

The Utah Utes vs. the Oregon Ducks men's football in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Nov.19. (Rish Deka, Daily Utah Chronicle)

The Utah Utes vs. the Oregon Ducks men's football in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Nov.19. (Rish Deka, Daily Utah Chronicle)

The Utah Utes vs. the Oregon Ducks men's football in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Nov.19. (Rish Deka, Daily Utah Chronicle)

The Utah Utes vs. the Oregon Ducks men's football in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Nov.19. (Rish Deka, Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Kim Brenneisen

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All the Utes had to do was win.

Utah needed to win its final three games of the season following a bye week in early November, after losing a close game to Washington at Rice Eccles Stadium, 24-31. The Utes even referred to this final stretch of the season as if they were competing in three separate “Super Bowls.”

They beat Arizona State, 49-26, handily after getting off to another slow start where the Utes found themselves down a couple of touchdowns. All they needed to do was beat Oregon in their home season finale, and the Pac-12 South title would come down to the game against Colorado in Boulder. But things didn’t go according to plan.

After scoring a touchdown against the Oregon Ducks on Nov. 19 on their first offensive drive of the game — the Ducks had a 3-7 record at the time they visited Salt Lake City — the Utes couldn’t get anything else going, and neither could Oregon for that matter, as the first half ended in a score of 7-3 with Utah on top. Both teams then only managed to score an additional seven points in the third quarter.

The game turned in that fourth quarter, becoming something of a shootout. But Utah could not keep with Oregon as the Ducks would score the final touchdown of the game, with just two seconds remaining on the clock.

“I was always told football is a game of inches,” said quarterback Troy Williams. “That was a perfect example — his foot was in by a matter of inches.”

Utah fell short for yet another season in the second-to-last game. And head coach Kyle Whittingham was disappointed with his team’s effort.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t take care of our business,” Whittingham said.

Then in the regular season finale against Colorado, the Utes would find themselves in the red zone five times. However, in those five trips the Utes only made their way into the endzone once for a touchdown.

“[I] had no idea we would do that on offense, or not do that as the case was,” Whittingham said. “We were nonexistent on offense.”

CU went on to defeat Utah, 27-22, and in doing so the Buffaloes claimed their first Pac-12 South title.

Utah finished the regular season with an overall record of 8-4 after going 5-4 in conference play. And this season was remiscent of years past in the Utah football program.

In 2015, the Utes were still playing for a shot at that Pac-12 Championship game, but then UCLA came to town, and Utah failed to get the job done when the Bruins beat them 17-9.

Spoiling Colorado’s season would have done little to help the Utes. It may have given the team that boost of morale that they need ahead of the bowl game. But any bowl game that isn’t the Rose Bowl is a disappointment in several of these players’ minds.

The players may say that they have moved on from those losses. But they kept mentioning all that week when they were gong up against Oregon that they weren’t overlooking one of the bottom-tier teams in the Pac-12 North, just because it was Oregon and its storied reputation. They said they were ready to take on Colorado, but the offense turned the ball over four times.

Fans can only see when it’s that sendoff bowl game whether or not the Utes are invested in how the season actually ends. But Williams is hoping that the team can remain focused.

“It’s football, it happens,” Williams said. “[We] just try and remember how blessed we are to be here. Win, lose or draw, it’s still a blessing to be here and play this game of football. Hopefully that still drives a lot of people to continue to want to play.”

So yes, the Utes still have a bowl game to look forward to, something that could end the season on more of a high note. However, it seems more likely than not, the Utes are going back to the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, for the third year in a row.

“Not what we wanted, very disappointed,” Whittingham said. “We had our eyes set on the South division, and making it to the championship game, but bottom line we didn’t get it done. There’s not a whole lot more to say.”

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@kbrenneisen